Highly compelling games have immense replay value that allows similar content to be recycled or extended for a large amount of time. How does a developer implement this high replay value into their own games? Firstly, Most games that are extremely replayable have some kind of social aspect. Not only does this allow you to find other people to play the game with, but it can turn the game into a “hangout” of sorts. The game itself doesn’t have to be incredible if the community is.
Next are challenges. Every highly compelling game will have unique challenges each time you fire up the game. Remember that content isn’t always king — when was the last time you saw new content for Chess? How many alternate maps in MOBAs are more popular than the standard? You have to find a way to challenge the player differently when they visit the same area over and over again. Usually this comes in the form of PVP as no AI will beat a human player in terms of ingenuity with developing a meta, and you can’t predict a person’s actions since everyone is different and an AI will perform the same actions as specified by its programming.
Give the player the ability to “max out” their characters. What is so appealing about grinding dungeons in MMOs for months on end? Obviously that’s so that they can get the next piece of shiny gear that will make their character better. Why is this appealing? You can show it off to other players as a sign of how much you play, and it also makes getting future, even shinier gear easier to get. If you let players get items that are considered to be difficult-to-attain, you will give the players who have them a sense of satisfaction and the players who don’t a reason to keep playing. This can generate a ridiculous amount of replay value, sometimes even in the face of a poor game in every other aspect.
Iterative storytelling is a good way to make a player look past repetitive gameplay. This is very popular in Korean RPGS; the next part of the story gets released and you’re back to grinding dungeons for items to deliver to an NPC so that you get drop-fed a small bit of exposition. This method relies on players being invested in your story quickly enough that the gameplay becomes secondary to storytelling before the repetition in the gameplay ruins the player’s urge to continue. Keep in mind that your story has to be solid for this to work.
As you can see, a lot of these features rely on multiplayer in some way or another. If you have a single-player, small-world RPG, the only true ways to have a large amount of replay value are to have meaningfully branching stories with alternate endings that the player deems worthy to try and obtain, procedurally generate as much of the map as possible in a way that is engaging and provides unique challenges, or some combination of these two. Of course, you can also just have a core gameplay mechanic that is extremely addictive, but that’s oftentimes hard to manage with an RPG format.
Important Takeaways: Replay value is a way to keep your players playing your game when content itself is lacking. This can be created in a game through having a social aspect, unique challenges every time the player visits the same area, giving the player progression in their equipment and levels so that they can “max out” their character, and having iterative storytelling that will compel players to push through repetitive gameplay.
Most of these aspects rely on having multiplayer in one way or another; to make a single-player RPG have large amounts of replay value, you can only realistically have a branching storyline with multiple, meaningful, compelling endings, and procedural generation in the map that gives the player unique challenges. You can always have a core gameplay mechanic itself be addictive, but this is hard to manage in an RPG format; these games are typically ones that are action-packed or ones with high amounts of variability and customization.